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Lawmakers reach a deal to temporarily extend major federal surveillance program

The agreement to extend FISA, which still needs to pass both chambers, would buy time for additional talks on reforms of the intelligence community's spy powers under Section 702.
The Capitol building as the sun sets.
The compromise still needs to be finalized in the text of the bill, and it would need to pass in both the Senate and the House.Samuel Corum / Sipa USA via AP

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers have reached an agreement to temporarily extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, three sources said, a move that could save the intelligence community from losing a key tool when it expires at the end of the year.

The agreement, which would reauthorize the law, known as FISA, through April, is part of bipartisan and bicameral negotiations over a path forward for the annual National Defense Authorization Act. Lawmakers had seen the defense bill as a likely vehicle for a temporary extension of the program, and whether it would ride with the package had held up attempts to finalize the bill in recent days.

The compromise still needs to be finalized in the text of the bill, and it would need to pass in both the Senate and the House. That is expected to happen before lawmakers leave Washington for the New Year at the end of next week.

There are ongoing attempts by different groups of lawmakers to reform FISA, particularly Section 702, which is the method U.S. intelligence agencies use to review data from phones, emails and other messages of foreign people abroad. 

Reformers and civil liberties groups argue that Section 702 is overused to collect large amounts of data without warrants — including data on American citizens whose information is collected when they interact with foreign targets. The FBI, for example, was also accused of frequently misusing data collected under Section 702 in 2020 and 2021, according to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

bipartisan bill in both the House and the Senate, first introduced by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, would require warrants for some inquiries.

Lawmakers who support the program are pushing against the proposed reforms, saying they would be unworkable and lead to consequential delays in intelligence-gathering. Section 702, proponents argue, is a necessary spying power that helps keep America and its allies safe.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., and Vice Chairman Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced their own reform bill last week.

The temporary extension of FISA through April included in the defense bill will buy the two sides more time to try to find a compromise that can pass both chambers of Congress.